That was only one controversial issue raised at the Phone Company’s Annual General Meeting last night. The other had to be the huge, 98 million dollar debt that BTL is left to pay as part of the settlement with the Ashcroft Alliance. It originates from a 45 million loan that Ashcroft’s British Caribbean Bank had with BTL when government took it over. For 6 years, BTL and government resisted paying the loan – but they lost at every court – and when the bill with interest came due – it was almost a hundred million dollars. How will BTL pay? That’s what they explained last night:

Jules Vasquez Reporting….

BTL shareholders gathered at the Biltmore Hotel conference room expecting to take a hit – 98 million dollars’ worth to settle an outstanding debt with the British Caribbean Bank.

But instead they got news of only a 48 million dollar low impact low interest:

Nestor Vasquez, Chairman - BTL

"The details are not yet finalized but the prime minister has informed us that BTL will have to service treasury notes in the amount of 48 million dollars, that 48 million in Belize dollars by the way; which I understand to mean favourable terms allowing BTL a legally authorized period of delay for the repayment of the entire loan."

Anwar Barrow - Chairman, BTL Executive Committee

"The government of Belize has said to us that we have to that we need to service 48 million dollars out of the 97 million dollars; that is what they have said. As of this point that is your bill and that is what you need to service. The rest of the balance is in an indefinite moratorium. Is that correct Mr. Vasquez?"

Nestor Vasquez, Chairman - BTL

"That is the correct terminology."

Anwar Barrow - Chairman, BTL Executive Committee

"So right now we have to look at the 48 million and how we are we are going to service it."

Nestor Vasquez, Chairman - BTL

"Indefinite moratorium means that it’s a legalized way of giving a delay to the repayment of a loan. So in due course the government will be with the remainder. But right now the person we owe is telling you service that 48 million; I have already paid that. In due course I will deal with the rest and bring it to you.

And according to the executives, that deal is better than if they had paid the 45 million dollar loan to the British Caribbean Bank when they first took over BTL in 2009:

Anwar Barrow - Chairman, BTL Executive Committee

"With the current financing structure that is being proposed, you the shareholders are actually in a better position than you would have been had we had to service that 45 million dollar loan; whether under the former owners or under the government. The interest payment on the loan, the terms of the loan was at 12%. They had expected, the former owners had said that they would be able to pay in 4 years. 2 years grace, just interest and 2 years principal on interest. We know that is not practical, that is impossible."

Nestor Vasquez, Chairman - BTL

"And besides that what we are going to pay we’re going to pay less in interest."

Anwar Barrow - Chairman, BTL Executive Committee

"To be precise to pay it over 7 years would have been 73 million dollars in total payback. As it stands now for us to pay the 40 million dollars over 15 years at 3% interest; the total payback is 59 million dollars. The interest savings going from 12% down to 3% will amount in total to a savings under this scenario."

And BTL says the hit on the loan is not going to affect business as usual:

Nestor Vasquez, Chairman - BTL

"The board of directors and I take this opportunity to assure you then that we do not expect the repayment of this long term loan to disrupt BTL's plan for the future growth in anyway what so ever. We are convinced that the capital expenditure will continue at the same level as in the past and that the benefits to our employees will not be affected in any, anyway whatsoever."

The company’s earnings were up slightly to 143.2 million dollars but profits were down by 2.1 million dollars – but BTL says it is expanding its customer base:

Anwar Barrow - Chairman, BTL Executive Committee

"We were able to bring 18 thousand active customers on the network. We were able to increase by 500% our amount of mobile 4g data customers; which is pretty pretty significant. We've increase that amount and we're pushing the network so hard that you may have noticed in certain areas there are challenges with dropped calls. And that is a direct result of the amount of traffic we are pushing through on the network. In 4 months we increase the mobile data traffic by 500%."

And now BTL says it controls two thirds of the mobile market:

Anwar Barrow - Chairman, BTL Executive Committee

"Since we’ve launched these campaigns we’ve been able as we say, wake the dead and bring back a lot of those customers onto the network. We are up right now in terms of the mobile market to around 65 or 66%. We've grown about 8 or 9% in the last 10 months."

Barrow says that will lead to a surge in earnings next year:

Anwar Barrow - Chairman, BTL Executive Committee

"That is going to be something that is a tremendous turn around. Going from 143 million dollars this year to possibly going over 151 million next year."

And at this AGM – that’s all these shareholders wanted to hear.

Shareholders received a dividend of 23 cents per share, a 4.6% return on investment.

Channel 7